19.12.18

The Senate just passed criminal justice reform

Senate Democrats join the push for sweeping anti-corruption legislation

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) speaks at a forum about campaign finance reform in 2016.

House Democrats’ sweeping anti-corruption bill HR 1 is getting a Senate companion.

House Democrats’ first bill of the year — a sweeping anti-corruption and pro-Democracy reform bill known as House Resolution 1 — is getting a companion bill in the Senate.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) is planning to introduce a companion bill in the Senate early next year, he told senators on Tuesday in a Dear Colleague letter obtained by Vox. The bill text would likely be an update of an existing bill Udall introduced in 2017, tweaked to mirror the House legislation.

HR 1 is the first bill House Democrats will tackle once they retake the gavel next year; it’s aimed at stamping out the influence of money in politics, curtailing Washington lobbying, and expanding voting rights.

Democrats are hoping to get some Republicans on board as well, but the reality is that Republican leadership in the Senate likely won’t let Udall’s bill make it to the floor. Still, it’s a sign that Democrats in the House and the Senate are serious about proposing a wide swath of reforms that could dramatically change American campaign finance laws, expand voting rights, and institute new rules that crack down on lobbying.

“Having strong, complementary democracy reform proposals in both the House and Senate, as a unified approach in Congress, will be an important step forward in repairing our broken political system and our destructive campaign finance system,” Udall told his fellow senators in the Dear Colleague letter.

The very existence of a companion Senate bill means Democrats are getting ready to enact reforms if they win back the Senate and the White House in 2021.

“American democracy has reached a crisis point,” Udall told Vox in a statement. “There is no more important issue to address in the opening days of the new Congress than restoring faith in democracy.”

What’s in the Senate bill

We don’t know exactly what will be in the final Senate companion bill yet, because we still don’t know exactly what will be in the final version of House Democrats’ HR 1 yet. The details of that bill are still being hashed out, and it needs to go through committee and markup in early January.

Udall is waiting for the House to produce a bill before he rolls out his own version, but there is already a blueprint for what will be in his Senate bill — his “We the People” Democracy Reform Act of 2017.

In broad strokes, the bill is very similar to the current HR 1. Just like the House bill, it’s a broad piece of legislation that focuses on three main areas: campaign finance reform, expanding voting rights, and cracking down on lobbying.

Here are some of the provisions in Udall’s 2017 bill:

  • A new public campaign finance system powered by small donors modeled on New York City’s small donor program that would reward candidates who agree to take small donations and forgo corporate PAC money.
  • Closing disclosure loopholes, forcing outside groups to report any campaign spending that’s $10,000 or more to the Federal Election Commission.
  • Significantly cracking down on corporations with ties to foreign government spending in US elections.
  • Ending partisan gerrymandering by mandating that states establish independent redistricting commissions powered by citizens, rather than state lawmakers.
  • Creating automatic voter registration, online voter registration, and same-day voter registration for eligible voters.
  • Replacing the FEC with a new enforcement agency to investigate violations of campaign finance law.
  • Requiring the president and vice president to disclose their tax returns and divest any assets that could present a conflict of interest. The president and vice president’s spouses and minor children would also be required to divest assets that could be a conflict of interest.
  • Making White House visitor logs public.
  • Cracking down on former members of Congress who don’t register as lobbyists but continue to work in Washington’s influence industry.

There are things in here that are different from HR 1, but some provisions — including the creation of a public campaign finance system, disclosure of tax returns, and incentivizing states to end partisan redistricting — are the same.

Democrats are playing the long game with this legislation

Democrats know these bills aren’t going to be signed into law in the next Congress; Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will still be in control and President Donald Trump will still be sitting in the Oval Office.

But Democrats are also making a big political statement — they know voters are fed up with money in politics and dysfunction in Washington, and they want to demonstrate they are serious about doing something to address it.

By making anti-corruption their No. 1 priority, House Democrats are throwing down the gauntlet for Republicans. A vast majority of Americans want to get the influence of money out of politics, and want Congress to pass laws to do so, according to a 2018 Pew Research survey. Given Trump’s myriad scandals, it looks bad for Republicans to be the party opposing campaign finance reform — especially going into 2020.

“Our best friend in this debate is the public,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters during a recent press conference. Pelosi, who is poised to become the next House speaker, talked about the new energy buoying the anti-corruption bill coming from freshmen members who had championed the issue in 2018 — helping propel Democrats to a landslide win in the House.

“We believe it will have great support,” Pelosi added.

Udall and Senate Democrats have been quietly working on these ideas for a long time. On his bill, Udall is already working with Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (RI), Ben Cardin (MD), Amy Klobuchar (MN), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Dick Durbin (IL) and others, and is looking for more partners. He has also been working with Rep. John Sarbanes (MD), the Democrat spearheading HR 1 in the House, since May.

They and advocacy groups are hoping that the chance to pass these reforms is just a few years away.

“If we get a more responsive Senate and president elected in 2020, I think the stage will be set to enact these reforms in 2021,” said Fred Wertheimer, founder of Democracy 21, a nonpartisan pro-democracy nonprofit. “If that doesn’t happen, we will keep pressing and set the stage for enacting them in 2023.”

source: vox

18.12.18

Federal Government open Lagos-Ibadan expressway for traffic

Messi collects record 5th Golden Shoe

Osinbajo urges Africa, Europe embrace digital economy

What’s wrong with the stock market right now, explained

A monitor displays the day’s numbers after the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange on December 17, 2018.

“Once you get spooked by something, you start being very sensitive to other bumps in the night.”

The stock market isn’t looking so hot these days.

After years of an upward trajectory in the wake of the financial crisis, Wall Street has become unpredictable again. The S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and Nasdaq are all well in the red for the year, and the stock market is potentially on track for its worst December since the Great Depression. Multiple market measures indicate an economic slowdown could be on the horizon, and many market experts and observers are starting to sound the alarm. President Donald Trump, who was once happy to tie his success to the stock market, has gone quiet on the matter except to try to cajole the Federal Reserve.

Former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan said in an interview with CNN aired Tuesday that it would be a “surprise” to see the market stabilize here and take off, but even if it did, the outlook would be bleak. “At the end of that run, run for cover,” he said.

So what’s going on? There’s never any one reason why markets move or investors suddenly become extra fearful or optimistic. What’s happening now is that a confluence of factors are causing anxiety on Wall Street, and it’s starting to look like the post-crisis party might be coming to an end.

“The financial markets as a whole give you a very bleak message,” Jim Paulsen, the chief investment strategist at the investment research firm the Leuthold Group, told me.

What goes up must come down, and that might finally be happening now

The current economic expansion and stock market run (until recently) has been going on for so long — and so much longer than many economists expected — that investors have been wondering for quite some time when that luck would run out. It looks like a combination of global and domestic events are starting to convince Wall Street that time is now.

Trump’s trade war with China is causing a variety of concerns, ranging from its impact on US farmers to its potential to raise consumer prices to its economic effects in both China and the US. Economic growth has slowed in Europe and is expected to slow in China next year. Drama over Brexit is also causing ripples, as are signals from the US Fed that it will continue to hike interest rates, potentially dampening the stock market and economy.

“All year, there’s been this nonstop search for the thing that would bring this cycle to an end,” Nick Colas, the co-founder of the market insight firm Datatrek Research, told me. “For a while, the market was able to shrug it off, but the last couple of months have made people feel like, yeah, this is the end.”

In the US, the fiscal stimulus from the Republican tax bill, combined with a boost in government spending, is likely going to soon run out. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that GDP growth will be 3.1 percent in 2018 and decline to 2.4 percent in 2019. It then expects GDP growth will slow to 1.6 percent each year from 2020 through 2022 and 1.7 percent annually from 2023 to 2028.

“Maybe this is the realization that growth going forward is no longer going to be accelerating and that the US economy in particular is going to be facing a more restrained global backdrop going into 2019,” Greg Daco, an economist at the forecasting and analysis firm Oxford Economics, said.

The market is freaking itself out even more by freaking out

The stock market has become volatile since about October, when whatever oncoming anxieties traders feel had begun to set in. Since then, the tumult has kept up, perhaps in part because this has turned into a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: Something goes wrong, analysts and pundits start saying the end is nigh, and that makes the hysteria even greater.

“Once you get spooked by something, you start being very sensitive to other bumps in the night,” Colas said.

And there are a lot of bumps.

Goldman Sachs, in a note to clients last Friday, warned that it might be time for investors to get defensive. On Tuesday, Credit Suisse slashed its expectations for the S&P 500 in 2019, citing “recent volatility.”

Market observers have begun to point to so-called “death crosses,” which are basically stock charts that are supposed to indicate a selloff is coming. The death cross takes place when a short-term trend tracker on a stock or index, generally its 50-day moving average, crosses below its 200-day moving average, a longer-term trend.

And then there’s the “yield curve,” which sounds wonky but is important because there is evidence that it’s often a sign of what’s to come. As Robert Samuelson at the Washington Post explains, the yield curve refers to the relationship between short-term and long-term interest rates, generally on Treasury notes. Normally, long-term interest rates are higher than short-term rates, because it’s riskier for investors to lend money for longer periods of time. When short-term rates get higher than long-term rates, the yield curve becomes “inverted,” and that’s often a bad indicator. Every US recession for the past 60 years was preceded by an inverted yield curve.

The yield curve isn’t inverted now, but it has flattened. “The first step to inversion is flat,” Colas said, “and no one wants to wait around for it to invert.”

Trump kind of has a point about the Fed

President Trump has been increasing his criticism of the Fed in recent months and urging it to keep interest rates down. This week, he’s fired off a pair of tweets discouraging the Fed from raising interest rates on Wednesday, as is widely expected.

Trump isn’t wrong that the Fed runs a risk in getting too aggressive on interest rates. The infamous saying about the Fed is that its job is to “take away the punch bowl as the party gets going” — meaning cool down the economy before it heats up too much — but it’s not clear that we’re actually there yet. Inflation is about in line with the Fed’s goal of 2 percent, economic growth isn’t out of control, and the labor market is strong, but not perfect.

Investors will be looking at not only what the Fed does on interest rates this week but also what it says about its future plans — will it keep the pace of gradually raising rates it’s been on since December 2015, or will it slow down a bit?

“The overarching theme and question of 2019 is how does the Fed manage a soft landing on the economy?” Daco said.

There’s a tension between competing concerns that growth will slow but that inflation will take off — Greenspan warned that the US could be headed to a period of “stagflation.” Paulsen agreed. “You’ve got a stagflation mindset, and that really limits the path for the bull market,” he said.

Relax

Turmoil in the stock market can put anyone on edge, but here’s the thing: Stock market swings and corrections happen, and on average, there are more up years than down years. From 1926 to 2017, the S&P 500 delivered positive returns three-quarters of the time. In positive years, it was up an average of 21 percent, and in the bad years, it was down 14 percent.

The stock market has been on a really good run for a while — there was literally a Bloomberg headline at the start of the year declaring that “the stock market never goes down anymore.” It’s up to individual investors whether they want to stay invested or ride out the current turmoil, but this isn’t a meltdown of the global economy.

If this downward trend continues, this will also be the first time many millennials are experiencing a stock market downturn since they’ve had a stake in the game. This is the first time anyone under the age of 30 has seen a downturn in their adult savings life, and if they didn’t get a 401(k) until they were 25 or so, that’s anyone under the age of 35.

This isn’t ideal, but it’s not the end of the world, either.

“Over the long term, the market has many more up years than down years,” Colas said. “It’s just the down years suck.”

source: vox

Trump Foundation shuts down amid lawsuit alleging a “shocking pattern of illegality”

Donald Trump on December 15, 2018.

The New York attorney general is still pursuing a lawsuit against the president’s charitable organization.

President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation has agreed to shut down as part of the New York state attorney general’s ongoing lawsuit against the Trump Foundation.

That lawsuit, which New York Attorney General Barbara Underwood filed in June, alleges that the Trump Foundation engaged in a “shocking pattern of illegality,” with the president using his charitable organization “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr. Trump’s business and political interests.”

Now Underwood has announced her office has reached a deal with the Trump Foundation that will dissolve the organization. The NY AG’s office will oversee the distribution of any remaining assets to AG-approved charities.

Underwood called this a “key piece of the relief sought in our lawsuit,” in a statement on Tuesday.

But it’s far from over. The New York attorney general is continuing to seek financial restitution to the tune of $2.8 million, plus additional penalties, and the office is asking the court to bar Trump from serving in New York nonprofit organizations for 10 years. The lawsuit also calls for a one-year ban for three of Trump’s children — Don Jr., Ivanka, and Eric — all of whom were Trump Foundation board members.

“This is an important victory for the rule of law, making clear that there is one set of rules for everyone,” Underwood said in her statement. “We’ll continue to move our suit forward to ensure that the Trump Foundation and its directors are held to account for their clear and repeated violations of state and federal law.”

Wait, what is this investigation about again?

The lawsuit says that Trump’s charitable organization, which he founded in 1987, engaged in “persistently illegal conduct” and that Trump basically used the foundation as a slush fund to promote his business and political campaign.

The suit includes a number of eye-popping details of alleged shady behavior. According to the lawsuit, Trump’s former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski helped direct donations to veterans from the Trump Foundation, in an apparent attempt to promote Trump’s candidacy. The foundation also made improper campaign contributions to Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, according to the suit.

The lawsuit also claims that the foundation’s board of directors had not formally met since 1999, and that the Trump Foundation promoted Trump properties and used money intended for philanthropy to settle various lawsuits. (You can read more about the details here and here.)

The lawsuit stemmed from a nearly two-year investigation into the foundation, which began under the tenure of former NY AG Eric Schneiderman, whose office also helped lead the suit against Trump University. (Schneiderman resigned in May after multiple women alleged he physically abused them.)

Trump has previously blasted the Trump Foundation lawsuit, calling it a “ridiculous case” and claiming it is politically motivated.

Investigations by New York have always loomed as a potential pitfall for Trump — whose business empire is based in the state — and for Trump associates. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney who was just sentenced to three years in prison, also met with Underwood’s office. New York state tax officials are also reportedly looking into the business dealings of Trump and his family.

And there might be more to come: Incoming Attorney General Letitia James has vowed to continue to pursue the lawsuits started by her predecessors, including the Trump Foundation case, and launch additional investigations into Trump’s real estate deals, the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, and more.

Read the stipulation dissolving the Trump Foundation below, or here.

source: vox

Michael Flynn’s judge suggested he might be guilty of treason. He’s not.

Flynn’s dinner with Vladimir Putin didn’t look great, but it wasn’t treason.

The bar for “treason” is really, really high.

In a fiery statement at the sentencing hearing for former national security adviser and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, the presiding judge, Emmet Sullivan, denounced Flynn and argued that he might be guilty of treason:

Flynn, to be clear, is pleading guilty to making false statements to the FBI, and special counsel Robert Mueller and his team are asking for a light sentence with no prison time. Treason, by contrast, is a capital crime.

It is possible that the judge was just making a rhetorical point. He was clearly outraged by Flynn’s conduct (“Arguably, this undermines everything this flag over here stands for!” he exclaimed), and “treason” as a term packs a bigger rhetorical punch than “making false statements to the FBI.” His attempted walkback of the comments suggests as much:

There is also, obviously, a colloquial meaning of “treason,” in which it consists of betraying your country in some way or favoring the interests of another country. Given that Flynn took money from the Turkish government shortly before delaying an anti-ISIS military plan Turkey opposed, it’s not outlandish to suggest that he engaged in a betrayal of some kind.

But law professors who have studied the treason clause of the Constitution, and its historical applications, say the actual crime does not apply here.

“Lots of disloyal, dangerous behavior that effectively amounts to a betrayal of the country can’t technically be prosecuted as treason,” UC Davis professor Carlton Larson, one of the few experts on treason law in academia today, wrote in an email. “Flynn’s behavior is a good example.”

Treason’s constitutional meaning

Treason is an unusual crime, in that it is defined within the text of the Constitution. Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution defines it as follows:

Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court. The Congress shall have Power to declare the Punishment of Treason, but no Attainder of Treason shall work Corruption of Blood, or Forfeiture except during the Life of the Person attainted.

As UC Davis’s Larson explained to me in an earlier interview, this language provides for two types of treason prosecutions.

The first is an “aid and comfort” prosecution, in which the defendant is accused of aiding the war effort of a country presently at war with the United States. Not just “rivals” but literally at war. Aldrich Ames, the CIA officer turned Soviet spy, got at least 10 people killed through his actions, and FBI Russian spy Robert Hanssen indirectly got at least three killed, but neither was charged with treason because the US was not at war with the Soviet Union/Russian Federation at the time of their actions.

By contrast, successful aid-and-comfort prosecutions include those of American Nazi propagandist Robert Henry Best and of Iva Toguri, who was accused of being “Tokyo Rose,” an English-language Japanese propaganda broadcaster meant to lower American service members’ morale in the Pacific (she was later exonerated and received a presidential pardon).

The second type of treason involves “levying war,” in which the defendants themselves waged war against the United States or an individual state. Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson’s first vice president, was prosecuted for treason on these grounds and acquitted, after being accused of assembling forces to create an independent state in the center of North America. John Brown, the abolitionist revolutionary, was convicted of treason against the state of Virginia on grounds of levying war after his raid on Harpers Ferry.

Michael Flynn’s conduct doesn’t meet this standard

Now, Michael Flynn is obviously not going to be prosecuted for levying war. That leaves the claim that he provided aid and comfort to our enemies in some way — the most obvious being his support for policies targeting ISIS that Turkey supported, but which were arguably not in the interest of the US.

“It is a preposterous stretch,” Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at George Mason’s law school, writes in an email. “There is no aid and comfort to an enemy; no time of war.”

Larson agrees. “Turkey is not an enemy under the constitutional provision (indeed, it’s a NATO ally), so simply providing aid and comfort to Turkey is not treason,” he explains. “ISIS is an enemy, since it is a foreign group with whom we are in a state of open war. So the only way a treason charge could stick would be if the government could show that Flynn provided aid and comfort to ISIS, which is probably unlikely. Moreover, they would have to show that Flynn acted with the intent to aid ISIS, which would also be difficult to establish.”

If Flynn really was attempting to help ISIS, as opposed to Turkey, a prosecution would indeed seem plausible. Indeed, an American-born al-Qaeda operative was indicted for treason in 2006 for aiding the organization. The indictment cites the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed in 2001 as well as Osama bin Laden’s statements that al-Qaeda is at war with the United States to demonstrate that by adhering to al-Qaeda, the operative in question, Adam Yahiye Gadahn, was helping a group with which the US was at war. The Obama and Trump administrations have relied on that same AUMF for prosecuting their war against ISIS, and you don’t have to look hard to find belligerent statements by ISIS officials against the US, suggesting that a similar rationale could result the prosecution of a US recruit to ISIS for treason.

But there is no real reason to think Flynn was trying to help ISIS by declining to help Kurdish militants. It seems plausible he was trying to help Turkey, but again, they are an ally, not an enemy. Even if he did want to help ISIS (a claim that, again, is preposterous), the treason allegation would be iffy. Consider the Supreme Court case of Cramer v. United States, in which Anthony Cramer, an American man who met with Nazi agents in the US, saw his treason conviction overturned on the grounds that merely meeting the enemy isn’t enough to count as treason.

In his opinion in that case, Justice Robert Jackson asserted that only a defendant who can be found to have “adhered to the enemy” and “intended to betray” the US could be found guilty of treason — even if he did provide aid and comfort to the enemy.

Proving Flynn not only provided aid and comfort to ISIS, but also consciously intended to betray the United States of America, would be basically impossible. That holds even in the incredibly unlikely world where those were Flynn’s intentions.

Treason is a very limited crime. It’s rarely prosecuted outside of wartime; Gadahn was the first person charged with treason since World War II. And it definitely doesn’t apply to this case.

source: vox

Judge rakes Michael Flynn over the coals in sentencing hearing

Michael Flynn

Things went so poorly for Flynn that he asked for the sentencing to be delayed.

A planned sentencing hearing for Michael Flynn took an unexpected turn Friday, as Judge Emmet Sullivan harshly criticized the former national security adviser — so harshly that Flynn eventually asked for the sentencing to be postponed.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s office had said a sentence of no prison time would be appropriate for Flynn, who admitted lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts, and has since been cooperating with investigations. But Judge Sullivan did not sound convinced, and instead made clear prison time was a possibility.

“This is a very — serious — offense,” Sullivan said. “A high-ranking senior official of the government making false statements to the Federal Bureau of the Investigation while on the physical premises of the White House.” He said he felt “disgust” and “disdain” for what Flynn did.

“Arguably, you sold your country out,” Sullivan said, even asking prosecutors whether they thought Flynn could have been charged with treason. (He walked back both of those statements somewhat after a brief recess.)

In part, Sullivan seemed annoyed because Flynn’s lawyers used a recent sentencing memo not to signal remorse, but rather to imply that Flynn was railroaded. For instance, they mentioned that Flynn had been told that the FBI interview could be quicker if he didn’t have a lawyer present, and that he wasn’t explicitly warned that lying to the FBI would be a crime.

Sullivan, however, used the hearing to try and dispel the myth that Flynn was set up. He got Flynn to admit that he understood lying to the FBI was a crime, and to reiterate his guilty plea. And he even said he had some “concerns” that Flynn hadn’t fully accepted responsibility for his crime.

The judge also questioned whether Flynn truly wanted to proceed to sentencing, even though his cooperation wasn’t yet complete. He warned them that if Flynn was sentenced today, he might not receive the full benefits of cooperation.

So after conferring with his attorneys, Flynn said he did in fact want to delay his sentencing. Evidently, they were surprised by Judge Sullivan’s view of the case, and didn’t expect a prison sentence to appear so likely. In the end, then, the matter was pushed into next year.

The back-and-forth between Mueller and Flynn in advance of sentencing

Last December, Michael Flynn pleaded guilty to making false statements to the FBI about his contacts with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

What had happened was that, after President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia in response to their interference with the 2016 election, Flynn got in touch with Kislyak and urged Russia not to retaliate. He did so in coordination with Trump transition officials. Afterward, Kislyak contacted Flynn to say Russia would indeed exercise restraint because of his request.

But when two FBI officials interviewed Flynn about this on January 24, 2017, Flynn lied. He claimed not to remember discussing sanctions with Kislyak, and certainly not to have urged Russian restraint. Flynn also lied about a previous contact with the ambassador, in which he’d urged Russia to abstain from a United Nations Security Council vote on Israeli settlement policy.

The controversy and the ensuing leaks about it cost Flynn his job. After that, he filed a FARA registration form in which he made various false statements about work he’d done during the 2016 election to benefit the government of Turkey. He admitted all this in his plea deal with Mueller’s team last December.

So after a long year, it came time for Flynn to be sentenced. And at first, all seemed well. The special counsel filed a sentencing memo two weeks ago suggesting he was quite happy with Flynn’s cooperation with the investigation — happy enough to recommend that a sentence of no prison time would be appropriate. “God is good,” Flynn’s son tweeted.

Then things took a turn.

With prison time seemingly off the table, Flynn’s lawyers decided to use their own sentencing memo to try and settle some scores.

Unlike George Papadopoulos’s lawyers, who used his sentencing memo to argue that he was “ashamed and remorseful” of his actions, and laid out a sympathetic narrative for why “Young George” lied (Papadopoulos is 31), Flynn’s team showed little interest in repentance. Flynn’s lawyers simply said he “does not take issue” with the government’s description of his crime, and vaguely claimed that he “recognizes that his actions were wrong.”

But the defense then proceeded to lay out a series of “additional facts” that seemed chosen to suggest Flynn was railroaded. They mentioned that agents hadn’t warned Flynn it was a crime to lie to the FBI, and that the deputy FBI director suggested the questioning could be done more quickly if Flynn didn’t have a lawyer present.

All this seemed intended to bolster what Flynn’s relatives and friends have been publicly claiming for over a year — that he was tricked, or set up, or that his prosecution was somehow unfair. The Wall Street Journal editorial page soon wrote about “The Flynn Entrapment,” portraying him as a “tragic” target of Mueller, and even taking a step further to claim that even though he admitted lying, perhaps he hadn’t deliberately lied at all.

Last Friday, then, Mueller’s team fired back, arguing that Flynn’s lies were premeditated and that he was now attempting to “minimize the seriousness” of his crime. “A sitting National Security Advisor, former head of an intelligence agency, retired Lieutenant General, and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents,” Mueller wrote.

And Judge Sullivan evidently agreed.

source: vox

JUST IN: Human Rights Engages Monitors on IDP’s Political Participation

Executive Secretary of the National Human Rights Commission Tony Ojukwu Esq, has said the Commission and relevant agencies are working assiduously to ensure that the rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to participate in governance and electoral processes are realized.

Ojukwu stated this at the end of year Review Meeting of the NHRC/ UNHRC IDPs/Returnees Protection Monitoring Project which took place in Yola Adamawa State.

As part of the review meeting which was organized by the NHRC in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR), IDP Protection monitors were trained on IDPs Political Participation. The training focused on emerging protection issues occasioned by the commencement of political campaigns ahead of the 2019 general elections.

The NHRC Boss stated that the vulnerable nature of IDPs may compel them into compromising their rights to freely exercise their franchise; “this has necessitated the training of Monitors” he said. “we are training monitors so that they can   sensitize the IDPs to among other things, not to allow themselves to be victims of vote buying considering their already vulnerable status” he added.

The Executive Secretary revealed that despite the paucity of funds the Commission has established 13 more State offices in addition to the already existing 24, “this move was driven by the determination of the Commission to make people have more access to its services across the country” he emphasized.

Ojukwu added that the presence of the Commission in all the states of the federation will make effective monitoring of emerging human rights violations especially those that relate to election a lot easier, now that all attention is geared towards the nation’s preparedness for elections.

He used the medium to call on government to increase the funding of the Commission to enable it deliver effectively on its mandates.

 

Some of the monitors expressed delight at the idea of the training on electoral participation of the IDPs in the upcoming election.  They urged the federal government to intensify efforts in making electronic voting a reality as this will enable all eligible voters no matter their status to exercise their franchise without discrimination.

NHRC

(NTA)

The Trump administration just banned bump stocks for guns

PPMC Reassures Nigerians of Adequate Supply of Petroleum Products

Image result for UMAR AJIYA

The Managing Director, Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC) Alhaji Umar Ajiya has reassured Nigerians of adequate supply and availability of  petroleum products  to cover the yuletide and beyond.

PPMC is a subsidiary of  the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)

Ajiya told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), on Sunday in Abuja that there was no need for panic buying of product over the oil workers demand for payment of outstanding subsidy claims.

“Nigerians should go about their normal businesses as adequate arrangements have been put in place by the NNPC and PPMC to ensure that there is continuous supply and uninterrupted distribution of petroleum products throughout the country,’’ he said.

He added that all the 618 NNPC retail stations and all the NNPC depots would be operational across the country throughout the festive season to ensure seamless supply and distribution of petroleum products.

Commenting on the payment of the outstanding subsidy claims, he said that government had assured that it would pay oil marketers by Dec. 14 according to the agreement by both parties.

“I believe that the unity and interest of the nation should be utmost desire of all and oil marketers have their own role to plays in achieving this,’’ he added

He urged oil marketers to ensure that Nigerians did not suffer during the yuletide.

NAN reports that the Federal Government pledged to pay oil marketers N236 billion of the N348 billion approved by the Nation Assembly as outstanding subsidy claims on Dec. 14.

Government said that the payment which was the first tranche would be made through promissory notes that would be issued by the Debt Management Office (DMO) as agreed by both parties.

But Depot and Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (DAPMAN) on Friday issued a counter statement saying that there was no agreement reached with government.

The association said it failed to reach legitimate demands of the association which was that the claims should be paid in cash instead of through the promissory note. (NAN)

(NTA)

Buhari Writes Nigerians: I’m Deeply Grateful

President Muhammadu Buhari, who marked his 76th birthday today has penned an appreciation note to all Nigerians thanking them for the show of love and prayers on his special day.

He also seized the opportunity to renew his pledge to serve Nigerians diligently and take the country to greater heights or as his re-election campaign will put it, the Next Level.

Read the personal letter of President Buhari:

Dear Nigerians/Friends –

It’s been my joy and honour to serve our country, Nigeria, for most of my life.

As I turned 76 today, I am deeply grateful for all the prayers, goodwill messages and encouragement from Nigerians and friends, at home and abroad.

Life is better lived together in peace, unity and prosperity.

In all, I give glory to almighty Allah for mercies, and thanks to Nigerians for counting me worthy to serve them. It is something I have rededicated myself to, and will do to the very best of my ability.

Nigeria has all the potentials for greatness. Our greatness as individuals will only derive from Nigeria’s greatness. So, on this special day, I commit myself again to the task of taking our country to greater heights, and invite you to partner with me in that worthy cause.

(NTA)

What the Republican tax bill did — and didn’t — do, one year later

Republican Martha McSally lost Arizona’s Senate race. She’s being appointed to the Senate anyway.

Rep. Martha McSally speaks during an event in Tempe, Arizona.

Arizona will have its first two women senators in 2019.

In a fascinating twist, Republican Rep. Martha McSally has officially been named Arizona’s newest senator after losing a race for the state’s other Senate seat to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema in November. McSally will take over the seat vacated by Sen. Jon Kyl, who had previously been appointed to serve out a portion of the late Sen. John McCain’s remaining term.

Kyl recently announced that he’d step down from the Senate seat on December 31, spurring questions about whom Gov. Doug Ducey would ultimately pick for his replacement.

McSally — the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat and a top recruit of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — had long been seen as a key contender for the seat, although a post-election memo her campaign had compiled more recently left her chances in doubt. As the Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan reported, the memo sought to attribute part of her loss to Sinema to a slew of factors including voter antagonism toward President Donald Trump and was not particularly well-received among certain state Republicans.

Additionally, McSally saw some blowback during the state’s Republican primary, when she was simultaneously called out for distancing herself from McCain by members of his family while also criticized for being too much like him by Republicans in the party who are further to the right. A longtime moderate, McSally was seen as contorting her positions on issues including protections for DREAMers and a border wall, in order to please a more conservative base.

McSally appears to have weathered any residual controversy to secure the appointment, however.

The two-term Congress member, who currently represents Arizona’s Second Congressional District, will take over the Senate seat until 2020 — when voters will decide which candidate they’d like to stay on for the last two years of McCain’s term.

“I am humbled and grateful to have this opportunity to serve and be a voice for all Arizonans,” she said in a statement, obtained by the Arizona Republic. “I look forward to working with Senator-Elect Kyrsten Sinema and getting to work from day one.”

McSally marks the second historic senator the state will see in 2019. Prior to this year, Arizona had never had a woman senator, despite strong representation in its state legislature.

Starting next year, it will have two.

source: vox

16,932 people have lost Medicaid coverage under Arkansas’s work requirements

Some of the worst fears about Medicaid work requirements are coming true.

The nation’s first active Medicaid work requirement, approved by the Trump administration in Arkansas, has now led to nearly 17,000 people losing health coverage.

A new report from the state health department showed that another 4,655 people have been locked out of coverage because they had failed for three months to comply with the state’s requirement that they work 80 hours a month (or some equivalent activity) as a prerequisite for receiving Medicaid. Add those folks to the 12,277 people who had already lost coverage in prior months, according to the Arkansas Times, and 16,932 low-income Arkansans have now been moved off of the health insurance program under the Medicaid work requirement.

For context, about 250,000 people are covered by Medicaid expansion in Arkansas; however, many of those people are exempt from the work requirement. Roughly 65,000 Arkansans actually needed to fulfill the state’s work requirement. About 8,400 failed to do so and, for 4,655 of them, it was their third month of noncompliance — meaning they are now locked out of coverage through the end of the year. They will be eligible to re-enroll in January.

What’s maybe most striking in the numbers is how few people are reporting their activities to the state as required. Arkansas has exempted many people — those who are working full-time, who are already meeting the work requirement for food stamps, or who are medically frail — from needing to report their activities. They are assumed to be in compliance.

But about 10,000 people were still required to report their work activities to the state. Only 1,428 actually satisfied the reporting requirement, continuing a trend from previous months; more than 8,300 people did not report any work activities at all.

The trend has become so worrisome that in November, a nonpartisan panel that advises states and the federal government on Medicaid urged Arkansas to stop disenrolling people. As the Associated Press reported:

“The low level of reporting is a strong warning signal that the current process may not be structured in a way that provides individuals an opportunity to succeed, with high stakes for beneficiaries who fail,” wrote Penny Thompson, chairman of the commission, which was created by Congress to make policy recommendations for low-income health care programs.

In September, only about 1,530 met the requirement by reporting their hours, while about 16,535 failed to report any activities.

Thompson said that the lack of Internet access could be hindering the state’s efforts to inform enrollees about the requirement. She also suggested that enrollees may need help finding and keeping a job.

This was one of the biggest fears for health advocates as the Trump administration touted Medicaid work requirements: that a lot of people would lose coverage not because they failed to comply but because they failed to report to the state. It seems to be coming true, at the cost of thousands more uninsured and poor citizens.

source: vox

The death of 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin in Border Patrol custody isn’t an isolated outrage

Trump’s social media conspiracy theory, briefly debunked

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at the Congressional Ball at White House in Washington on December 15, 2018.

The president wants you to believe Twitter is out to get him. There’s no evidence that’s true.

President Donald Trump thinks social media giants are biased against him. But there’s no evidence it’s true.

On Tuesday morning, Trump lashed out at Facebook, Twitter, and Google in a tweet, writing that the companies “are so biased toward the Dems it is ridiculous!”

“Twitter, in fact, has made it much more difficult for people to join @realDonaldTrump,” he added. “They have removed many names & greatly slowed the level and speed of increase. They have acknowledged-done NOTHING!”

Trump’s claim that Twitter has “removed” followers of his appears to be a reference to Twitter’s ongoing efforts to remove bot accounts, including a campaign ahead of November’s midterm elections to purge automated accounts linked with efforts to discourage Democrats from voting.

In a statement sent to Vox following Trump’s Tuesday morning tweet, a Twitter spokesperson indicated Trump’s followers aren’t being targeted.

“Our focus is on the health of the service, and that includes work to remove fake accounts to prevent malicious behavior. Many prominent accounts have seen follower counts drop, but the result is higher confidence that the followers they have are real, engaged people,” the statement said.

Republicans have no evidence for their claims of bias — but that doesn’t stop them

Decrying social media bias has been a favorite pastime of Republicans this year. But when they’ve been challenged to provide evidence for their claims, it hasn’t gone well.

During a national TV interview, Donald Trump Jr. cited the fact Republicans complain about alleged bias more as evidence it’s a real thing. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has repeatedly cited random Wikipedia edits as evidence Google is censoring Republicans. The president accused Facebook of bias despite the fact that conservative publishers dominate its market for news content.

Earlier this month, Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani posted an unintentionally comical tweet accusing Twitter of allowing someone to “invade my text with a disgusting anti-President message.” In fact, Giuliani posted a typo that created a hyperlink that redirected to a website someone purchased with the message, “Donald J. Trump is a traitor to our country.”

But instead of acknowledging his mistake, Giuliani concocted an evidence-free conspiracy theory to explain the embarrassing episode.

Emily Stewart contributed to this report.

source: vox

Trump now says the US loses $200 billion on illegal immigration every year. That’s not true.

Joe Biden is leading the 2020 polls. Here’s what he thinks about policy.

A back-to-basics pitch aimed at middle-class workers.

Joe Biden has ideas.

America’s best-liked former vice president and current Democratic 2020 primary poll leader has a public image dominated by the Onion’s parody Biden and a vague sense of him as the lovable “Uncle Joe” in a mostly youthful Obama White House. To the extent that he’s known for anything specific, it’s gaffes and quasi-gaffes like telling a hot mic that passage of the Affordable Care Act was a “big fucking deal.”

Critics, of course, focus on aspects of his long-ago record — the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings, the War on Drugs, the non-metaphorical war in Iraq — that may take the shine off the current front-runner once his opponents stop being polite and start getting real. (There’s also the issue of whether Biden’s at-times questionable behavior with women will stand up to scrutiny in the #MeToo era.)

The biggest oddity about Biden: Despite his near-universal name-recognition and consistent poll lead, he mostly hasn’t been taken seriously as a player in the policy arguments that have roiled the Democratic Party over the past three years.

That’s a mistake. As Biden has tiptoed toward a 2020 run, he’s begun to outline a policy agenda that — while in some ways less dramatic than other 2020 contenders — is an important glimpse at what a Democratic agenda laser-focused on the working class could look like. After years of intra-party dialogue polarized between Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) brand of social democracy and the newfangled form of hyper-woke politics that Hillary Clinton used to beat him in a primary, Biden offers true back-to-basics economic populism.

It’s an agenda that’s progressive and could be genuinely transformative for low-wage workers but also cautious in key respects — focused on workers and students rather than the poorest of the poor, and careful to avoid any hint of middle-class tax hikes or racial divisiveness. It’s less about expensive new expansions of the welfare state than shifting the underlying rules of the economic game to take the government’s thumb off the bosses’ side of the scale and put it on the side of workers.

Politically, it’s an updated version of a formula Democrats used to routinely rely on for general election campaigns (reminiscent of Obama in 2008 or Biden’s unsuccessful run in 1988; his 2008 bid was more focused on foreign policy). Many seem to have set the formula aside as incompatible with the current views of the party base, which is seen as demanding either a full pitch for social democracy, an explicit focus on questions of racial and gender identity, or both. For now, though, the base likes Biden quite a lot, so it’s worth paying attention to what he’s saying.

Joe Biden’s agenda for the middle class

With most 2020 Democratic contenders hailing from Capitol Hill, which is perennially swarmed with reporters, Biden’s entries into the Ideas Primary have gone largely unnoticed despite his high name-ID.

They can be found, however, at a little digital publication he launched called Biden Forum: A Conversation About the Future of the Middle Class that’s housed at the Biden Foundation and run by Ben Harris, a Northwestern University professor and veteran DC policy wonk who served as Biden’s top economic advisor during Obama’s second term. Biden himself gave his own voice to these ideas during two major policy speeches he delivered over the course of 2018, one at the Brookings Institution and the other at Northwestern’s Kellog School of Management.

Across those speeches a number of main ideas emerge:

  • Free college: Biden endorsed this back in 2015 when he was still vice president. The idea neither reflected Obama’s policy proposals nor the mainstream thinking in the Democratic Party, but he consistently highlights it when he talks these days. Biden’s rhetoric on this score moves seamlessly between leftists’ love of big universal programs and moderates’ belief in education as the central engine of economic justice, elegantly blending two strands of progressive thought.
  • Middle-class tax reform: Biden identifies a tax code that is excessively friendly to investors rather than workers as a central problem and calls for higher taxes on rich business owners’ passive income in order to finance things like a tripling of the Child Tax Credit and other benefits for middle class working people.
  • Regional inequality: When listing his five ideas to strengthen the middle class, Biden made tackling regional inequality one of the ideas. But in his speech on tackling regional inequality, Biden mostly just referenced the other four ideas from the five ideas speech. Still, he seems quite taken with the factoid that 75 percent of venture capital flows to just four cities. The point is that Biden seeks to identify himself emotionally and intellectually with parts of the country that feel they have been “left behind” rather than with America’s most booming cities.
  • Power for workers: This is the area where Biden’s thinking is most distinctive. He calls for “laws that allow labor unions to flourish and fight for basic worker protections” but also for a suite of new kinds of protections that operate outside the scope of traditional union-focused labor law. Biden wants a ban on non-compete agreements, a suite of measures to ensure that workers can discuss their pay without fear of retaliation, and stronger measures against wage theft. Separately, Biden has been stumping for a $15/hour minimum wage since 2015, when the Obama White House’s official position was $12.

A few key themes hold these ideas together. One is that they all specifically address the economic needs of working people. It’s not welfare state expansion, and it’s not narrowly targeted at the absolute neediest people. Relatedly, while this program is fairly ambitious, its budgetary cost is relatively modest and could be easily financed under the rubric of taxing the rich, rather than asking voters to accept a European-style tradeoff in which middle-class taxes are higher but social services are dramatically more generous. In part, however, that’s because he’s ducking a few key topics.

Biden’s big missing pieces

Obviously what we’re not hearing about here are Biden’s views on the critical topics of health care and climate change.

When denouncing Republican efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act last year, he wrote that “when the ACA became law and healthcare coverage was extended to millions of people, it meant we had finally decided, as a nation, that healthcare is a right for all and not a privilege for the few.”

That was certainly the aspiration of the ACA, but a series of hiccups — starting with a Supreme Court decision that curtailed Medicaid expansion and continuing through to congressional repeal of the individual mandate and Trump administration sabotage of open enrollment — has meant that it still doesn’t describe the reality of the American health care system. There are currently more than a half-dozen major left-of-center health care plans floating around, and a Biden presidential campaign would likely want to either pick one of them up or release its own.

Similarly, Biden’s commitment to the climate change issue can’t really be doubted — he introduced Congress’s first-ever climate bill way back in 1986 — and likens climate skepticism to “denying gravity.” But he hasn’t really weighed in in a distinctive way on the subject.

These lacunae are, however, broadly consistent with Biden’s overall strategic approach at this point. He’s acting like a more-or-less generic Democrat, focused on honing a general election message laser-targeted at working-class voters who backed Obama in 2012 but either stayed home, flipped to Trump, or voted third party in 2016.

Biden wants workers to know he’s really into them

In some ways, the most distinctive aspect of Biden’s current political message is also the fuzziest — something you can think of as a national call for redistribution of respect and social esteem.

He concluded his Brookings speech on five ideas to boost the middle class with a riff that wasn’t really policy at all, saying, “I applaud investors, but do I think they are greater job creators than the people who do the work in a company? No. I don’t.”

That’s a bit related to his specific tax reform ideas, but he went further from that policy hook:

One more thing — how did we get to a place where the people who repair our bridges and put roofs on our homes, who keep the lights on in our cities and the water systems flowing and our streets safe, and who teach our kids and take care of our sick and elderly parents — how did we get to a place where they don’t feel respected for what they do? Where they don’t feel valued?

This brand of feelings-first politics drives ideologues and technocrats bananas, but corresponds to how most people think about politics and political leadership — in terms of group identity and affiliation. Biden is asking Americans to think of themselves based on occupational categories, and to think of himself as a champion of front-line workers. There’s a policy element to that in terms of both taxes and labor market regulation, but it’s a deeper and less concrete pitch than that.

Concurrently, Biden talks about race in a way that is at least a little out of step with recent Democratic Party messaging, if by no means unique.

Biden’s pitch — economic justice creates racial inclusion

Post-LBJ Democrats have tended to champion race-neutral economic policies that, because African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately low-income and rich people are disproportionately white, have the effect of narrowing racial gaps.

Opponents of such policies have often tried to cast them in racialized terms, to present themselves as the champions of the white majority rather than of the economically privileged minority. But somewhat befuddled by Bernie Sanders’ far-left economic pitch gaining traction, Hillary Clinton’s campaign turned to the argument that policies that are facially neutral on race are insufficient and that Democrats should talk about “systemic racism” and intersectionality.

Clinton’s strategy helped win the primary and you can see it being imitated by other potential contenders like Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who’ve gone out of their way to emphasize the racial justice angles to facially race-neutral policies like baby bonds and expanding housing supply.

Biden’s pitch, by contrast, is in the classic vein of Barack Obama or Bill Clinton — racially inclusive, but emphatically not about race:

And if we make the decisions we need to make, I believe that not only will we revitalize the middle class in this nation, but we will build a more inclusive middle class that brings everyone along: women, black men, Hispanic men, and so many others who in the past have been left out  —  or blocked out  —  of the middle class.

Conventional thinking is that Biden’s early polling lead simply reflects name recognition and that this old-school pitch is too out of step with today’s Democratic Party to win. That may be so. Still, even in the 2016 cycle, white working-class voters were a quarter of Hillary Clinton’s coalition in the general election, and evidence suggests that education-focused message outperformed race-focused ones with African-American voters.

Other aspects of Biden’s very long record in public life — ranging from a “tough on crime” past to mid-aughts votes in favor of invading Iraq and a controversial bankruptcy bill — may well doom him when the candidates get down and dirty.

But as far as a message goes, the 2008 and 2012 campaigns were not exactly ancient history. This is the pitch that Barack Obama used — not the transformation of America into a Nordic social democracy or the transformation of America into a sociology classroom, but some basic efforts to get the government on the side of middle-class people. And guess what: Obama is still very popular. So is his former vice president.

source: vox

A new theory for why Republicans and Democrats see the world differently

Our political divisions aren’t red versus blue, but fixed versus fluid.

“Of the many factors that make up your worldview, one is more fundamental than any other in determining which side of the divide you gravitate toward: your perception of how dangerous the world is. Fear is perhaps our most primal instinct, after all, so it’s only logical that people’s level of fearfulness informs their outlook on life.”

That’s political scientists Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler, writing in their book Prius or Pickup, which marshals a massive trove of survey data and experimental evidence to argue that the roots of our political divides run so deep that they make us almost incomprehensible to one another. Our political divisions, they say, aren’t about policy disagreements, or even demographics. They’re about something more ancient in how we view the world.

Hetherington and Weiler call these worldviews, which express themselves in everything from policy preferences to parenting styles, “fixed” versus “fluid.” The fixed worldview “describes people who are warier of social and cultural change and hence more set in their ways, more suspicious of outsiders, and more comfortable with the familiar and predictable.” People with a fluid worldview, by contrast, “support changing social and cultural norms, are excited by things that are new and novel, and are open to, and welcoming of, people who look and sound different.”

What’s happened in recent decades, they argue, is that politics in general, and our political parties in particular, have reorganized around these worldviews, adding a new, and arguably irreconcilable, difference into our political divisions. That difference is visible in everything from what we think to where we live to how we shop, but it’s particularly apparent in how hard it is for us to understand how the other side views the world.

Over email, Hetherington and I discussed his findings, and what they mean for American politics.

Ezra Klein

There’s a paragraph in your book I’ve been thinking about since I read it. You write, “America has had [political parties] basically forever and the country hasn’t always been polarized. For political parties to be polarizing, people need to feel that particular identity intensely.”

What’s the difference between being a Democrat, having a Democratic worldview, and having a Democratic identity?

Marc Hetherington

The ideological conflict that used to divide the parties was the size of government. The Democrats said bigger, the Republicans said smaller. Importantly, most Americans didn’t have intense commitments on this question. In addition, party elites could compromise across it. Hence, the political conflict spawned by it wasn’t rancorous most of the time.

That changed in the late 20th century, accelerating into the present day. The dividing line between the parties was no longer a philosophy about governing (a political ideology — more or less government). It evolved into differences in philosophy about life (a worldview — is the world a basically safe place to explore, or is it a dangerous snake pit to hunker down against).

If you think the world is dangerous, safety is always the No. 1 concern. When it comes to physical safety, letting your guard down against adversaries could be disastrous. If you think the world is safe, however, discriminating against groups that have generally been down the racial, gender, or sexual orientation hierarchy is the real sin.

Ezra Klein

So the argument is that a party affiliation or worldview becomes an identity when it’s so intensely felt that it’s operating almost sub-rationally, and that that’s happened with the safe/unsafe divide? That seems odd to me. Why would politics have reorganized around visions of safety, particularly in an era when the world was getting, overall, safer?

Marc Hetherington

Not exactly. A worldview isn’t an identity. It is a way of understanding the nature of the world. Is it safe or dangerous? Should we protect traditional ways of doing things, or is it safe to challenge them?

Today’s political acrimony results from Americans’ worldviews becoming married to their partisanship. Because people’s worldviews organize their whole life — not just the political part of it — a party identity defined by them produces intense conflict. Opposing worldviews have always existed in America (and probably since humans have been around). What is new is that they are now mapped neatly onto Americans’ party identities.

Evidence is everywhere. The clear theme of the 2016 GOP convention was that life in 21st-century American is perilous. “American carnage” was central to Trump’s inaugural. His recent statement on standing with Saudi Arabia literally began with, “The world is a very dangerous place!”

When Democrats see, hear, and read these things, they just don’t get it. Although they see danger, it is in the form of Republicans who perceive people who look or sound different as threats to national security. Modern-day Democrats see old traditions that discriminate against minorities, women, and LGBT people as the real threats to American life.

The reality that the world is actually safer hardly matters. What matters to today’s politics is that the bases of the two parties see it much differently.

Ezra Klein

That makes sense to me as an explanation for why partisan identities seem so much deeper, but it doesn’t really explain why American politics would’ve reorganized around understandings of threat in an age when the world, overall, was getting safer. What’s the explanation for that?

Marc Hetherington

The issues that produced this “worldview evolution” include race, law and order, gender equality, religion in the public sphere, LGBT rights, protecting the country from terrorism, gun rights, and immigration.

A cascade of new issues rose to subsume the old New Deal conflict that had divided the parties. Beginning in the 1960s with the Democrats’ embrace of civil rights and the Republicans’ “Southern strategy,” the process continues to this day, involving a range of issues that have one thing in common: The Democrats have consistently taken the more “modern” or “open” side of them, while the Republicans have taken the more “traditional” or “closed” one. This is why Americans’ worldviews now map so neatly onto their party identifications.

But what do race and immigration have to do with gender equality? What do the domestic issues, in general, have to do with keeping Americans secure from terrorist threats? Our research shows that Americans’ preferences on all these issues turn on the same thing — their worldviews. People at opposite ends of the worldview spectrum differ by 40, 50, and sometimes 60 percentage points on all these matters.

If your worldview suggests the world is dangerous, the specter of terrorism will, of course, be especially concerning. But social change is potentially dangerous, too. Existing traditions and hierarchies have maintained order for millennia. Racial and gender equality threaten those hierarchies. LGBT people challenge those traditions.

If you think the world is safe, you don’t see refugees as trying to infiltrate the country to do harm. They need our help. You don’t see identity groups vying for equality as threats. Instead old traditions and hierarchies are the real threats because they perpetuate discrimination.

Ezra Klein

One concern I have about the fixed versus fluid division is whether it reflects the cause of our disagreements or the consequence of them. Politics in America cuts quite sharply along demographic lines. But is it really true that, say, white Americans are overwhelmingly more likely to be fixed in their worldview than African Americans? Or is it that white Americans lean toward a political party that is preaching a fixed view as a response to our political divisions, and as a way to restore a past it prefers?

I guess another way of asking this is whether a fixed worldview is itself fixed, or whether it’s a response to certain political demographic conditions at certain times.

Marc Hetherington

The racial split in the US is not a worldview split. On worldview, African Americans would actually fit better in the GOP. Blacks, white evangelicals, and working-class whites are the groups most likely to have fixed worldviews. For African Americans, in particular, the world has, after all, been a dangerous place.

Remember Republicans have been demeaning African Americans to attract the white working class for decades. Fixed worldview whites perceive African Americans and immigrant groups as threats. But African Americans and immigrant groups don’t view themselves as threats. Republicans are the threat to them. Group identity, not worldview, drives their party choices.

People’s worldviews remain pretty stable over time. It is a deeply ingrained understanding of how the world works, which guides decisions in all different parts of people’s lives. That being said, we find that the fluid become “situationally fixed” in their political preferences when they are frightened.

Take 9/11, for example. Americans across the worldview spectrum were petrified. In the short run, the more fluid became more willing to trade civil liberties for security, more willing to support the use of torture. The fixed were already likely to support those things before the attacks. As time passed, however, the fluid went back to valuing civil liberties and opposing torture. Their worldviews hadn’t changed.

That being said, our research makes clear that fear benefits Republicans in a worldview divided system. Opinions creep to the right, at least for a time.

Ezra Klein

This brings up something else I wanted to ask you about in the book. You argue that there’s an asymmetry in truth-seeking between the two sides — that “misperceptions about climate change, crime rates, and the side effects of vaccinations all find their staunchest defenders on the political right, rather than the left.” You go on to say that “evidence is piling up that those on the political right seem to have a stronger tendency to take steps to buttress their worldview than those on the political left.”

On the one hand, that very much seems to describe a political party in which Fox News is the most trusted news source and Donald Trump, a genuine conspiracy theorist, is the leader of the party. It’s also a hard conversation to have because even talking about differences in truth-seeking sounds insulting and biased, and it’s easy enough to come up with individual examples of lefties who believe crazy things (though left institutions seem more robust against those crazy things). Can you walk me through the evidence that convinced you?

Marc Hetherington

You express a concern about being seen as “insulting and biased” to conservatives, a concern we share. But it seems an asymmetric one. When did you last observe conservatives worrying that about exaggerating liberal pathologies? Regardless, we don’t argue there is some “problem” with conservative Americans. The problem starts with conservative leaders.

The simple fact is that Republican leaders more often traffic in falsehoods than Democratic leaders do — climate change denial, birtherism, suggesting voter fraud is rampant, and more. These are not positions of the conservative fringe. The president of the United States himself has embraced all these falsehoods. If Democratic leaders were similarly likely to push false narratives, more Democrats would believe them.

Conservative media amplify these falsehoods. This is what links what leaders say and do to what the public believes. Liberals tend to rely on a range of liberal and mainstream news sources. Conservatives tend to rely on a much smaller number of highly ideological sources. According to a 2014 Pew study, consistent conservatives expressed the same level of mistrust of ABC News as consistent liberals did of Sean Hannity.

Hence, conservative Americans are more likely than liberals to believe falsehoods about the other side. For example, Democrats were about 12 points more likely than Republicans to say that the Bush administration directed flooding to parts of New Orleans during Katrina. But Republicans were 34 points more likely to believe Obama was born in Kenya than Democrats and 32 points more likely to believe that Obamacare included “death panels.”

That doesn’t mean that there is no biased thinking among liberals. They, too, are more willing to support or oppose a policy because it is or isn’t being carried out by their team. But skepticism about basic facts does, in fact, differ markedly by party and ideology.

Ezra Klein

I’m very interested by the idea that the problem starts with conservative leaders. I’ve seen a lot of studies about how individual liberals and conservatives respond to misinformation in laboratory or survey conditions and the results usually don’t differ that much. And yet conservative institutions, like Fox News and the Republican Party itself, have spun off into dedicated peddlers of misinformation. It seems to me that there are two ways of conceptualizing this:

1) There are differences on the individual level between conservatives and liberals — i.e., conservatives respect authority more, or are more sensitive to threat — that are laddering up to the institutions they create or demand.

2) There’s something that’s happened in the conservative institutional ecosystem that’s led to it evolving away from truth-seeking standards and toward whatever it is that it’s become.

So when you say you blame conservative leaders, are you saying you buy some version of the second explanation rather than the first? If so, why?

Marc Hetherington

We think the two explanations are related and difficult to disentangle. There are likely individual-level differences that ultimately drive partisan and media institutions to provide misinformation. You’re right that researchers have yet to demonstrate many differences in how liberals and conservatives react to misinformation in the laboratory.

I posed this question to Brendan Nyhan, the leading scholar on political misinformation. His sense is that there may be something in the psychology of liberals and conservatives that causes them to react differently to misinformation, but at this point, the evidence is thin. This is because it’s difficult to determine whether conservatives express more belief in misinformation than liberals because they are more prone to believe it or because they are exposed to so much more of it.

Sure, there is partisan media on the left, but its audience is much smaller and it lacks misinformation peddlers like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones. Why the much higher demand on the right? We think the answer must lie partially in the individual differences between liberals and conservatives.

The most likely reason would be a differential need for what psychologists call cognitive closure. Those we consider having fixed worldviews have a greater need for closure which suggests a greater need to avoid cognitive dissonance. They therefore are more likely to believe information that confirms their worldview. These differences may drive the supply of misinformation coming from political elites to some degree.

What’s for certain is that those who hate their opponents will be more willing to believe the worst about them. And Republican leaders have been bolder about exploiting that hatred of the other side than Democratic leaders have.

Ezra Klein

Let me close by asking you the question I always dread asking. I can imagine the pessimistic, or maybe even just realistic, story in which these trends simply continue. What’s the optimistic story about what can be done?

Marc Hetherington

I’m an optimist and even I can’t generate much optimism now. The hatred of our opponents that accompanies a party system divided by worldview is self-reinforcing and, ultimately, dangerous.

We appear to be approaching a crucible moment. Robert Mueller appears ready to produce evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to help win the presidency. Federal law enforcement has already indicated Trump himself broke campaign finance laws. Yet I suspect Republicans will greet both developments with a collective shrug. When you hate your opponent as much as Republicans hate Democrats, it is hard to give an inch on anything. Their response will cause Democrats to hate Republicans even more than they do now. And so on and so on.

For things to change, something must supplant these primal worldviews as the dividing line between the parties. That impetus must come from the top. Leaders set the grounds of debate. Ordinary people follow their lead. Democrats, for their part, seem to be trying. In focusing on health care and wages in 2018, they are making the dividing line about the size of government. It is a winning strategy.

I worry, though, that politics divided by worldview may be the natural state of things. We just didn’t realize that because we grew up in an anomalous time when the divide was about the size of government. Looking back over centuries, politics has almost always been fought between forces who favor the traditional and those who favor modernity. Governments didn’t have the resources to do much, so it couldn’t be the central source of division. We’ve gone back to the future.

As chapter seven of our book shows, the same process is playing out in Europe. Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil suggests the same thing there. It is not a happy story.

source: vox

The GOP tax bill only gave workers 2 cents more per hour in bonuses

Crime and murder fell in America’s most populous cities in 2018

A new report from the Brennan Center for Justice has good news.

The crime rate in America’s 30 most populous cities may have hit its lowest point since 1990 this year, according to a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy think tank.

The report analyzed data from the US’s 30 largest cities, finding drops in the rates of crime, violent crime, and particularly murder (although not all of the cities provided complete data). Brennan researchers Ames Grawert and Cameron Kimble extrapolated the available data to project the full crime rates for 2018 in the biggest US cities.

They found that the murder rate fell this year by nearly 6 percent — fueled especially by big drops in the murder rates in Chicago and San Francisco and a smaller decline in Baltimore.

The overall crime rate is projected to drop by 1.8 percent, putting the crime rate in these cities at its “lowest since at least 1990,” Brennan found. Violent crime is also projected to drop by 2.7 percent.

Not every city is expected to see declines. For example, Washington, DC, and Houston are expected to see increases in the murder rate of 39.5 percent and 22.6 percent, respectively, according to Brennan.

Only 22 cities provided Brennan with data for crime and violent crime, but all 30 provided data for murder. The findings largely support Brennan’s earlier 2018 report from September.

This would be the second year of good news, after the FBI confirmed that crime and murder rates fell in 2017 too. That stands in contrast to an increase in the murder rates in 2015 and 2016, but reflects a decades-long trend toward less crime and murder in the US.

Brennan has been putting out these reports over the past few years to give a more up-to-date estimate of crime trends. The FBI releases a national report with crime statistics each year, but with a big delay; the FBI’s full report for 2017, for example, came out after Brennan released its first report on 2018 in September.

“We think there is a lot of misinformation on crime and crime rates,” Inimai Chettiar, director of the justice program at the Brennan Center, previously told me.

“Certain politicians put out all sorts [of claims] on crime that not only tend to alarm the public, but also bring out really bad and unnecessary policy changes,” she added, citing mass incarceration and an immigration crackdown. “Before we’re even having those policy debates about what needs to be done to solve the problem, we need to make sure whether there actually is a problem or not.”

Brennan’s numbers are projections, so they might not be completely accurate, and they’ll be updated as the group gets more data. But until we get the FBI’s full national crime data for 2018 in the late summer or fall of next year, the Brennan report is the best we have to go by.

And it’s good news.

There’s no American carnage

The 2015 and 2016 increases in the murder rate got a lot of attention, with President Donald Trump and then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions often bringing them up in speeches to justify “tough on crime” policies. But before they were able to implement such policies and let them take root (especially in local and state jurisdictions, where federal policymakers have very limited power), the rates already seem to be dropping.

Criminologists still aren’t sure why murder in particular appeared to spike so much in 2015 and 2016. Some argued that there might have been a “Ferguson effect,” named after the city in Missouri that exploded into protests over the police shooting of Michael Brown: Due to protests against police brutality over the past few years, police were, the theory goes, scared off from proactive policing, emboldening criminals.

Other experts argued a different kind of Ferguson effect: Widely reported incidents of police brutality and racial disparities in police use of force led to elevated distrust in law enforcement, which makes it much harder for police to solve and prevent crimes.

Yet many criminologists cautioned that it’s also possible 2015 and 2016’s increases were blips in the data, not a new long-term trend. This isn’t unprecedented; in 2005 and 2006, the murder rate in the US increased before continuing its long-term decline — to new record lows — in the ensuing years.

Since the murder rate in particular is generally low, it’s prone to big statistical fluctuations. As one example, Brennan found that Las Vegas saw a 23.5 percent increase in its murder rate in 2017, but that was due to the mass shooting that killed 58 people. A single event, albeit a very bad one, led to a dramatic spike.

That’s why criminologists generally demand several years of data before they declare a significant crime trend.

It now looks possible — though we’ll need more years of data to confirm — that 2015 and 2016 were replays of 2005 and 2006. If that holds, then perhaps the US isn’t in the middle of the “American carnage” that Trump has warned about.

For more on what works to combat crime and violence, read Vox’s explainer.

source: vox